By: Randy Tucker
The hounds just slept all the time in their big fenced-in area just a few yards northwest of my grandparents’ house in rural east-central Arkansas.
My grandpa Forrest Tucker and my grandma Sally lived on a 35-acre cotton farm about 10 miles west of Marianna in Lee County. You had to take a winding two-lane highway to their turnoff and drive another mile or so on a gravel road to get to the farm.
It was a magical place for an eight-year-old kid. Hogs, chickens, turkeys, a watermelon patch that was the envy of the county – and best of all, virgin forest bordering the east end of the place.
My dad, grandpa, and my great Uncle Fred often took those sleepy red boned hounds with Uncle Fred’s blue ticks into the woods just before sunset.
I would sit beside an open window on the back porch and listen to those hounds sing in the darkness. Sometimes they bayed close by, but more often they slowly disappeared into the twilight with just a distant, occasional cry carrying on the wind to let me know they were still on the hunt.
My grandpa had an amazing skill with his 20-gauge Harrington and Richards single shot shotgun. He would have a shell in the chamber and carry two more in his left hand. If quail flushed or a coon was visible in his flickering carbide lamp, he could get off three shots with that old gun almost as fast as my dad could fire three rounds from his Remington 870 pump.
It was a rite of passage to be able to go out with the older guys. I tried to go a couple of times, but they told me I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
One late summer day, my grandpa and I were harvesting watermelons. We’d take the melons, put them in his Ford pickup, and then we’d drive the backroads a few miles around his farm and sell them to people living in isolated houses nearby. I still remember the old folks paying with standing liberty quarters, Barber half-dollars, and buffalo nickels for those melons.
That day, my grandpa pointed to a big melon; it weighed about 50 pounds. He told me to carry it to the truck. I didn’t weigh much more than the melon itself, but I hefted it up, bear hugged it, and started for the truck about 40 yards away. I almost made it, but tripped on a vine a few feet from the truck, and fell forward and into the wet pulp of the melon when it burst against the ground.
When my grandpa quit laughing, he told me I was old enough to go out with them the next time they let the hounds out.
A few weeks later, we were back at their farm, and Uncle Fred dropped by with his hounds baying in the back of his truck.
Yep, my first coon hunt.
Off we went into the gathering darkness. My dad, grandpa, Uncle Fred, and my dad’s cousin Billy. Those lazy old red bone hounds metamorphed into hunting machines. I quickly learned there were trail dogs, sounding dogs, and kill dogs. The trail dogs didn’t bark at all, they just followed the scent of coon with their nose inches off the ground. The sounding hounds had great singing voices, and the older guys could tell who was baying by each dog’s unique voice. The kill dogs were big bruisers who fought with the coons or whatever else we might encounter in the darkness.
The pace was quick at first as we walked fast after the lead dogs. The quick walk turned into a run when all the hounds began to sing.
Uncle Fred had lost three dogs to a big coon a few years before when he didn’t keep up. Random waterholes in the woods dotted the area, and a seasoned coon will drown one hound while fighting off the others until he’s killed the entire pack.
Our sprint through the darkness prevented that from happening. Their cries changed to a treeing bay. It meant the coon was up one of the tall hardwood trees.
Grandpa and Uncle Fred gathered the hounds and tied them to long leashes. My dad looked up the tree, and a pair of masked eyes reflected the flickering carbide beam back at us.
No shot tonight. It had been a good chase, and they let this one go.
It was 1965, and it seems like yesterday.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting, and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.